I generally think of myself as a pretty humble guy, but apparently I’m more egotistical than I thought. When I played the first Viewtiful Joe game, I complained about its excessive difficulty, and vowed to stick to the easier “Kids” mode if there was a sequel. I just couldn’t do it, though. I popped in Viewtiful Joe 2, started a new game, and was faced with a screen asking me to choose between “Kids” and “Adults.” I stared at it. It stared back. Pride won out (I am a grownup, dammit!), and I selected “Adults.” Pride goeth before a fall, and surely did I fall, again and again.

Just about everything that was good in the first VJ is still there in VJ2: the graphics are still pleasing, with their delightfully garish color palette; the levels are well designed and enjoyable to move through; and the action continues to raise button-mashing to an art form with its intricacy. Both Joe and his girlfriend Sylvia are fully playable now, and their differing VFX powers (in place of Mach Speed, Sylvia has the nifty Replay ability, which multiplies one hit into three, with accordingly dramatic camera angles) allow for a wider variety of puzzles.

Having the two characters together also affects the game’s story and cutscenes. While VJ2 continues to populate its world with amusingly wacky cartoon characters (a faux-Samurai tiger, complete with bad poetry) and ludicrous situations (meet the Buddha in the road! Kill it!), the dialogue between Joe and Sylvia grates a bit. The banter between the leads sounds like it was lifted from a bad sitcom: he’s an insouciant lunkhead, she’s a shrill harpy — who knows why they’re together? I work very hard to keep Everybody Loves Raymond out of my life, and it’s kind of an unpleasant surprise to find it invading my GameCube.

Gameplay is what matters, though, and VJ2 has it in spades. At its best, the game has you moving Joe and Sylvia through levels like Tasmanian Devils. The VFX powers are useful not only because they boost your abilities and power, but because slowing down, zooming in, and replaying the action allows you to revel in the simple pleasures of wanton destruction. At least that’s how it feels when you actually get to destroy things.

Too often, the smashy fun is interrupted by frustrating sequences where you’re ganged up on by a pack of overpowered ninjas, or trapped in a never-ending boss battle. The problem is that in order to heighten the game’s difficulty, the developers didn’t just make enemies really strong or fast, they made them break the game’s own rules. Zooming in allows you to interrupt an enemy attack with one of your own — except when you can’t. Slowing down allows you to deflect or dodge projectiles — except when you can’t.

It begins to raise the question of whether VJ2 is simply very difficult or outright cheap, which is an upsetting question to ask of such an otherwise likable game, because taking cheap shots is one of the worst things a video game can do to a player. Once you get to the point of asking the question, though, the answer hardly matters, because either way, the net effect is the same: the frustration starts to overwhelm the fun. The easier “Kids” mode doesn’t clear up all those exceptions to the rules, but it does make enemies weaker and the player stronger, which at least gives you a chance to survive the game’s nastiest areas. I just wish they hadn’t given it such a condescending label; if I could bring myself to play in that mode, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.